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Analysis: Lakers have found the all-important 'switch'

By Dave McMenamin,
Posted Nov 29 2008 2:54AM

LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers didn't look like the Lakers for two and a half quarters on Friday.

The team with the best record in the league thanks to its dedication to defense and depth of its bench was getting picked apart. The Mavericks' Jason Kidd and Jose Juan Barea were creating opportunities with their penetration and the Lakers' Bench Mob was being outscored 35-2 by Dallas' reserves.

Los Angeles gave up 57 points and allowed a .500 Mavs club coming into the night riding a five-game win streak to shoot 58.5 percent from the field in the first two quarters

"At halftime me and L.O. [Lamar Odom] and the rest of the team were sitting here talking and saying we had to do something different if we want to win," Trevor Ariza said.

Turns out the main thing the Lakers did different was playing Ariza more, as he played 22 of his 31 minutes in the second half and keyed a 17-0 run over the end of the third quarter through the beginning of the fourth to seal the 114-107 win for the 13-1 Lakers.

"I just came in and played the way I know how to play and I played hard with a lot of energy and hit the open shots," Ariza said.

Ariza, whom Lakers' coach Phil Jackson described earlier in the season as a "stealth" player because of his ability to sneak from Point A to Point B on the court as if he was was Rayden from the video game Mortal Kombat, was as conspicuous as can be during the Lakers' comeback.

Trailing by 11 with just more than five minutes to go in the third, the fifth-year forward got a steal, pushed the ball ahead to Kobe Bryant and filled the lane to finish the play with a dunk.

A couple possessions later he chased down a loose ball and found Pau Gasol for a jumper.

The plays got the crowd going and the Lakers' intensity only snowballed from there.

Completing the comeback was an Odom to Pau Gasol alley-oop that tied the game before the third quarter was even over. It wasn't quite Kobe-to-Shaq in Game 7 against Portland in the 2000 playoffs, but you wouldn't know from the fans' reaction -- a Lakers staffer told me it's the liveliest she'd ever seen the STAPLES Center stands for a regular-season game.

It was another member of that championship Lakers team that also helped make the comeback possible: Devean George.

George, who spent the first seven years of his career with L.A., saw extended minutes in just his third game played of the season after missing a month with bone spurs in his hand. The only reason he got court time was because of Josh Howard's ankle injury.

Bryant started the game shooting 6-for-15 until he found himself guarded by George in the third quarter. Bryant ended the game making eight of his last 11 shots to finish with a season-high 35 points.

"I was going to get going anyway and it just added to it that he was there," Bryant said. "Since he's been here the only thing he ever talked about was going to another team and locking me up, so it was like, 'Well, here's your chance, buddy.'"

Dallas adjusted by putting George on Ariza to start the fourth. Ariza gave him the Kobe treatment, first crossing up the former Laker and finishing with a tough bank shot in the lane to put L.A. up by six and then knocking down a jumper a couple minutes later in George's eye.

"It's opening up," Ariza said after finishing with season highs in points (15) and shot attempts (12). "The court is opening up for me."

The Lakers have found that switch that all great teams must have. When it's flipped, it's like the opponent doesn't even exist.

The 17-0 run against the Mavericks isn't rare for this L.A. team. It had a 33-10 run in its last game against New Jersey, a 10-0 run in the game before that against Denver as well as a 22-0 blank against the Clippers, a 39-17 fourth quarter against Houston and a 30-9 spurt the first time it played Dallas this year.

And when the Lakers are riding those runs -- started inevitably by hardnosed, turnover-creating defense and finished with precise, pick-your-poison offense -- they don't just look like the Lakers.

They look like your 2008-09 NBA champions.

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